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Case Number 26877: Small Claims Court

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Hail Mary (1985) (Blu-ray)

E1 Entertainment // 1985 // 110 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // January 22nd, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge P.S. Colbert proffers a trenchant, deconstructionist quip here.

Editor's Note

Our review of Hail Mary, published December 8th, 2006, is also available.

The Charge

"What I'd like is for the people at IBM—I could tell them: 'Look, I've got a book by Francoise Dolto on religion and psychoanalysis, I've got two characters, Joseph and Mary, I've got three Bach cantatas, a book by Heidegger. Make me a program which will arrange all that for me.' But they can't, and so I've got to do it myself and I don't want to spend twenty years on it!"
Director Jean-Luc Godard

The Case

Picturesque Myriem Roussel (First Name: Carmen) plays Marie (or Mary, if you're keeping up via English subtitles), a seemingly ordinary French girl, active with a local basketball team, working part-time at her father's filling station, and dating a handsome young Taxi driver named Joseph (Thierry Rode).

One evening, Joseph picks up a strange fare from the airport; a cherubic little girl (Manon Andersen, Oh Woe Is Me) and her adult guardian, Gabriel (Philippe Lacoste), a hulking and short-tempered figure who thrusts $500 into the cabbie's hand, demanding to be taken to the very gas station where Mary works.

Upon arrival, Gabriel confronts Mary, brusquely informing her that she has become pregnant. "By whom?" she asks. "Not you!" Gabriel responds, indicating Joseph. "By whom?!" Mary demands. "I sleep with no one." (In fact, for the two years they've been dating, she has never allowed Joseph to touch or even kiss her). But the meeting has ended; Gabriel and the young girl have gone, leaving Mary and Joseph with only burning questions. An immaculate conception?

Welcome to "Je vous salue, Marie" (better known as Hail Mary to us subtitlers), Godard's modern retelling of the coming of Christ. Here ends my blow-by-blow account of the film's events, though you probably can deduce that I've only given you the setup. I'll also spare you the inevitable recap of the great "controversy" this film stirred (particularly with Catholic politicos) upon its original release, not merely because I believe the entire brouhaha was yet another bust-up based almost entirely on ignorance and a lust for attention, but rather, because learning about this hiccup in the cultural media wars becomes as easy as typing the film's title into Wikipedia nowadays—though, for a bird's eye view of the happenings as they occurred, and placed perfectly in context, I strongly recommend skipping straight to Roger Ebert's film review, originally published on April 4, 1986, and currently available through www.rogerebert.com.

The rest probably applies to rabid Godard fans like myself; those most likely to embrace Hail Mary as a work of pure, if unhinged, genius, as I do. According to Richard Brody's superlative "Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life Of Jean-Luc Godard," the director was particularly awed by the subject matter he'd taken on here, and unsure of exactly how to approach it, "he shot everything repeatedly, doing more takes than usual, refilming the entire story four or five times, so that it took seven months to shoot a film that runs only seventy (sic) minutes."

That much is evident; though the running time remains short, the film all but boils over with a surfeit of images, audio cues, philosophical constructs, Dvorak suites, Coltrane riffs, and even a half-formed second story, involving a college professor and his pupils, which allows the film to keep a running science vs. religion dialogue coursing throughout. Whew!

Is Hail Mary occasionally confusing, and difficult to follow? Does Hail Mary feature copious footage of its title character in the nude? Yes and yes—this is Godard, after all. Is Hail Mary in any way blasphemous, or disrespectful to religious tradition? Hell, no!

The Cohen Media Group has given Hail Mary (Blu-ray) a sumptuous visual and audio presentation that well serves those who'll require it in their collections (just as the film itself requires multiple viewings in order to wring out its every nuance), and their generosity extends to a bounty of bonus features, including a feature-length audio commentary by director Hal Hartley (Fay Grim) and Museum of the Moving Image Chief Curator David Schwartz. There are filmed "conversations" between Godard and Roussel; Godard and film historian Antoine de Baecque (Two In The Wave); Godard and long-time colleague Pierre Rissient. More, you say? There are twenty minutes of notes on the film from Godard's Video Notebook, 1983; the original theatrical trailer, the re-release trailer (!), and the almost-obligatory essay-laden, picture filled accompanying booklet.

Finally, we come to The Book Of Mary, a taut and masterful thirty minute short by Anne-Marie Mieville. Despite the connection its title suggests, the only thing the two films have in common is a leading character with the same name. In this case, prepubescent Mary (Rebecca Hampton) bears painful witness to the disintegration of her family, when her parents (Bruno Cremer, Aurore Clement) announce a "trial separation."

Ironically, this "additional" film is programmed on the disc (as it was in theatres, back in the day—most likely, at Godard's insistence) to play before Hail Mary, and by virtue of Mieville's concise and clear narrative construction, it most likely won over most viewers who struggled through the main feature, if indeed, they stayed until the end. Go figure.

The Verdict

It is it guilty? Is it not? It is Godard!

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 91

Perp Profile

Studio: E1 Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• PCM 2.0 Stereo (French)
• English
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Blu-ray
• Drama
• Foreign

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Video Notebook
• Interviews
• Trailers
• Booklet


• IMDb

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